Loneliness is a growing issue with a tangible impact on people’s health. We live in the most technologically connected age, yet rates of loneliness in the US, for example, have doubled since the 1980s. These feelings of isolation affect a person’s ability to perform at work and are correlated with lower creativity and impaired decision-making. For most people, work is an important opportunity to interact with others and to feel part of a community, creating a sense of connection and belonging.
This is the second in a series of five chapters on how your organisation can create competitive advantage through a more engaging people experience.
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As we live longer, social connections are going to be particularly important. To illustrate, let us consider that those who live to 60 years of age have around 93,600 productive hours, whereas for those who live to 100, it is 218,400. More than doubling the number of productive work hours a person has opens up myriad options for transformation. Some of these changes may be voluntary – returning to education, for example, or switching careers. Others may be forced by external circumstances, such as being made redundant. To successfully navigate these transformations, people need to find fresh opportunities and leverage social connections for emotional resilience; they must find new ways to adjust to their sense of self and to innovate in the years ahead.
Organisations play an important role in enabling social connectedness and building more resilient workforces that are better able to withstand change and disruption. New models of working may create flexibility, but they can also reduce opportunities for interactions and relationships.
Overcoming this challenge requires organisations to rethink the way they help people build connections. Although organisations understand how important such connections are, they are not taking steps to facilitate networking both inside and outside the workplace.
To understand how prepared companies are to nurture their workforce for the future, we sought to identify the key organisational capabilities they will need to succeed. Building on PwC research and working in collaboration with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, we identified 45 key organisational capabilities. We then conducted a global survey of more than 1,200 business and HR leaders from 79 countries to gauge how important those capabilities are to organisations around the world. We also sought to learn whether organisations are taking action today to get ready – and which capabilities are most at risk owing to a lack of action. The full results are published in Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today.
In her work, Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School describes three key networks – the posse, the big ideas crowd and the regenerative community – that are vital to workers’ productivity and well-being. When organisations understand these dynamics, they can better plan for their future workforce.
The ‘posse’ is the group of people in similar industries and roles that a person can turn to for advice.
Close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, and people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work. However, in the workplace today, the opportunities for interactions and relationships can be reduced by new models of flexible working. Coworkers who previously worked in the same city may now be distributed around the globe in different time zones.
Overcoming this challenge requires organisations to transform the way they connect people; for example, by embedding collaborative technologies such as enterprise social networks deep into processes. However, this approach doesn’t always work out. This difficulty is reflected in our survey results: only 50% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their organisations have successfully developed a robust virtual social platform.
Enterprise social networks work best in organisations that already have collaborative cultures. People are not going to share information or build relationships in cultures where ‘what you know’ is an important source of power. Building collaborative cultures requires an organisational rethink, particularly when it comes to incentives. Rewards send a powerful signal about the behaviours an organisation encourages.
In most corporations today, job design and performance management are based on individual accountability, despite the fact that most work is collaborative. Talent management practices usually focus on individual competencies and experiences while overlooking an employee’s contribution to the team and their ability to gain value from their network. As a result, employees are less likely to share knowledge freely, learn from one another, help one another complete tasks and meet deadlines, and share resources.
When rewards for individual performance predominate, people are motivated to compete, not collaborate. They are more likely to hoard knowledge and connections. In contrast, when people are rewarded for their learning, they are motivated to build relationships, collaborate and explore opportunities to acquire knowledge from others. These learning rewards focus not just on the work employees do on their own, but also on how they leverage input and ideas from others, and what they contribute to others’ success. Therefore, to foster collaboration and nurture the ‘posse’, organisations must move away from short-term performance indicators towards more forward-thinking learning rewards.
The ‘big ideas crowd’ is an extended and diverse group of people with whom a person has weaker ties.
It’s a myth that ideas stem from the solitary genius or lone inventor; it’s the serendipitous encounters made possible by a person’s network that fuel people to create innovative products and services. A study of 2 million patents awarded over the past 50 years found that the most innovative and high-impact ideas are much more likely to come from cross-enterprise collaborations than from teams from the same university, lab, or research centre. However, most people tend to build networks that are heavily skewed toward their own functional, business or geographical groups, and fail to elicit or value the input and perspectives of peers from different functional or organisational groups. This creates an echo chamber in which very little new information circulates. Groups become stuck in consensus and, after a while, people think and act alike.
Providing people with the ability to build diverse networks (and rewarding those who do so) may become an increasingly important tool for attracting the best talent. However, in our survey, only 45% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their organisations encourage and reward employees who build diverse networks.
To build the ‘big ideas crowd’, we can learn from the workshops of the Renaissance, where artisans met and worked with architects, mathematicians, engineers, anatomists and scientists. The result was entrepreneurship and innovation that generated social and economic value. To emulate this kind of collaboration today, corporations can make use of coworking spaces alongside traditional offices, as these spaces bring people together from multiple organisations in the same physical location even though they are not necessarily working on the same project or task. This can work well for non-proprietary projects and knowledge building. Some corporations, including Unilever subsidiaries, are offering employees the opportunity to work at startups for a period of time to help them think outside their traditional roles and build diverse networks.
The ‘big ideas crowd’ also helps companies in times of flux. As jobs are destroyed and new ones created in response to disruptive technological innovation, having a talent pool that can transform by drawing on diverse networks will help produce a more resilient organisation.
The ‘regenerative community’ includes people with whom a person has strong ties; it tends to be family or friends outside work.
The network known as the ‘regenerative community’ is essential in providing emotional support during difficult times and is vital for maintaining resilience. A long-running Harvard University study has found that close social relationships are more important than money in promoting happiness. These close ties protect people from life’s setbacks, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ or even genes. But we can easily overlook the importance of these bonds.
The pressure of tight deadlines and the 24/7 work culture mean that fewer people are finding friendships outside the workplace. The number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. Organisations can prevent this by ensuring their employees can disconnect from work. Managers play an integral part as role models, by showing their commitment to avoiding excessive workloads and minimising unpredictable hours.
Tata Consultancy Services’ Knome platform is an enterprise social network that connects 380,000 employees around the world in one online forum. Knome’s aim is to make firmwide communication – through blog posts and message boards – the norm, in place of private communications such as email. Its aim in doing so is to unleash unstructured collaboration, innovation and creativity. It seeks to create a community out of the global workforce.
Each person has a unique profile that includes a picture, information on their skills and, if they choose, information about their non-work life, such as interests and hobbies. In this way, Knome allows employees to integrate their work and non-work identities, thereby encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work. Users can upload blogs, create communities with colleagues who share interests, comment on activity taking place in the business and engage in innovation challenges.
More than 300,000 employees are actively using Knome and making new connections. Employees have also created more than 9,500 online communities of shared interests and skill sets where they share ideas and collaborate.
Partner, Joint Global Leader, People & Organisation, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 77 3987 4275
Partner, Joint Global Leader, People & Organisation, PwC United States
Tel: +1 (917) 863 9369
Director, Workforce of the Future research programme, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 77 1016 9938
Partner, People & Change, PwC Singapore